CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago-area judicial candidate who was once on the fast track to a high-salary, high-status job as a judge now faces charges of impersonating a judge when she was a court staff attorney early this year, prosecutors announced Friday.
Rhonda Crawford, 45, is accused of donning a robe and briefly hearing traffic cases in a Cook County courthouse on Aug. 11, months after she won the Democratic primary for an open county judgeship. Crawford had been considered a shoo-in to win the Nov. 8 election, but news that she briefly played the role of a judge astonished the legal community, drew ridicule and triggered the criminal investigation.
Crawford has been indicted on charges of misdemeanor false impersonation and felony official misconduct, which carries a maximum sentence of five years behind bars, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said in a statement.
"(Crawford's) conduct in this case was offensive to the integrity of our system and cannot be excused or ignored as a mere lapse in judgment," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said in the statement, adding that judges are "at the heart of our criminal justice system."
A message left for Crawford's lawyer, Victor Henderson, wasn't immediately returned. He has previously described the incident as, at worst, "a minor infraction," and accuses Democratic powerbrokers exploiting the incident to undermine Crawford's election bid.
Crawford herself has said the matter has been blown out of proportion, telling reporters at a September news conference that she'd been shadowing judges to observe how they work when one offered to let her put on the robes. Crawford said she agreed in a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"I did not tell anyone that I was the judge," she said last month. "I want to emphasize that the judge was always standing over me. She never left the bench."
Crawford has said she donned the robe for just five minutes, but regrets having done it.
"I allowed my respect for the judge and my enthusiasm to learn the procedures of being a judge to become a distraction to others and to my own lifelong ambition of being on the bench," she said. "It is a lesson I will never forget."
Crawford, who was a staff attorney assigned to Chief Judge Timothy Evans at the time, was fired from her $57,000-a-year position. Her annual salary as a judge, should she win in November, would be more than $180,000.
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